Wednesday, June 08, 2005

American Civil War Submarine Found

A British explorer has discovered an abandoned 19th-century submarine that might have been the inspiration for Captain Nemo's vessel Nautilus in Jules Verne's novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. John Blashford-Snell found the cast-iron submarine, named Explorer, half-submerged in three metres of water off the coast of Panama. Like Nautilus, the craft is cigar-shaped and has a lock-out system, which allows submariners to leave, collect items from the seabed and return to the vessel. It was built in 1864, about five years before Verne's classic adventure story was published. It is thought the French writer would have read about the submarine's specifications. Mr Blashford-Snell, 67, who runs the Scientific Exploration Society, heard about the object 20 years ago. At first he was told it was a Japanese mini-sub, but someone else insisted it was an old boiler, so he forgot about it. But when he returned to Panama recently looking for ancient ruins, a maritime museum in Canada asked him to examine the object. "We were very lucky to find it because at high tide it is totally submerged, but we got there at low tide when about half of it is showing," he said.
Julius Kroehl built the 10-metre long vessel for the Union forces, but it was not used in the Civil War. It ended up in Panama where the lock-out system made it a useful tool in the pearl trade. "I realised it was identical to the system used in Nautilus," Mr Blashford-Snell said. He said Verne must have read about the Explorer's lock-out system and used it in his book. The Explorer was abandoned after all its crew died of what was reported to be a fever, but may well have been the bends. A British maritime heritage expert, Wyn Davies, said the Explorer may have inspired Verne. "The cigar shape is also a clue that Verne might have borrowed his concept from the Explorer because other submersibles of this era came in a variety of shapes."

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